Fr. Jim Elliott
Pentecost Year A
June 12, 2011 St. James’ Quitman
Some of you know that I grew up in Valdosta and that I spent all of my life there until I went off to college. I was educated in the Valdosta public schools in the 1960s and 70s and attended and graduated from Valdosta High School in 1978. Those of you who are from this part of the world or have lived here for any period of time know that high school football is a huge part of the culture in which we live. And during my school years here, to paraphrase Vince Lombardi, high school football wasn’t everything, it was the only thing!
To be clear, I was NOT a superlative athlete. While I had played all manner of sports, in my younger years, I learned by the time I was 14 or 15 years old that it wasn’t in the cards for me to be a member of the Valdosta High Wildcats football team. On the other hand, I was a pretty good student. I took honors courses and the very first Advanced Placement classes taught at Valdosta High. I made good grades and was involved in a number of non-athletic extracurricular activities and I was also active in my church. But in the eyes of most of the folks that I knew, all of that paled in comparison to the achievements of my friends who played under the lights on Friday nights at Cleveland Field, as it was known in those days.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I had some wonderful teachers – teachers that cared very much about my success as a student. And I did get a good high school education that prepared me well to succeed in college. But regardless of the academic achievements of myriad students like me, the focus of the school and the community was always on the success – or failure of our much beloved football team.
By the time I made my way to Athens, Georgia to begin law school in the early 1980s, I realized that this “football mania” was not unique to Valdosta. I remember being at first year orientation at UGA Law School and hearing a presentation by Professor Paul Kurtz. Professor Kurtz was a brilliant teacher who was educated at Vanderbilt and Harvard and who showed a keen interest in the well-being and the success of the students at the law school.
Professor Kurtz’s orientation presentation included some statistics about the successes of UGA Law graduates, a discussion of the award winning student publications there, and many accolades for the accomplishments of our championship Moot Court teams. During that orientation program, Kurtz asked the group rhetorically why all of this success was so important to us – and he concluded that we must understand the importance of having a law school that the Georgia Bulldog football team could be proud of.
I think our professor was trying to impress upon us that we were there to become lawyers and that we shouldn’t get sucked into the pigskin madness that envelopes Athens every fall. What he was saying was that we wouldn’t let the Bulldogs’ Saturday afternoon successes or failures at Sanford Stadium determine our mission to be the best law school and the best lawyers we could be.
And in a way, that’s just what Saint Paul is talking about in this lesson we just heard from his First Letter to the Corinthians. To put this in context, the Church at Corinth put significant emphasis on the gift of speaking in tongues. In fact, it was emphasized so much that it became divisive within the church community because those that had that particular talent or ability saw themselves as superior to those who did not. It is against this backdrop of conflict that Paul gives us this particular part of this letter.
And that’s why Paul tells us that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Put another way, each of us receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism. And it is by that same Holy Spirit that each of us receives the gifts and the talents and the abilities that God has given to us. So it is through our birth into Christ – through our baptism into the priesthood of all believers – that we – that all of us – receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are marked as Christ’s own – forever.
It is through God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit that we are who we are – as individuals and as the body of Christ. Regardless of whether we are lawyers or teachers or farmers or preachers, we are all one body. Regardless of whether we are nurses or administrators or equipment operators, we are all one in Christ crucified and Christ resurrected.
But we are not just one body here at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Quitman. We are not just one body as Episcopalians here in the Diocese of Georgia. And we are not just one body as Episcopalians in the Anglican Communion. We are baptized into the body of Christ. We are baptized in the church catholic – the universal church – the entire body of Christ. We are made one body in Christ in and through our baptism – into the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.
No matter who we are as individuals – no matter what we are as individuals – regardless of our age – our race – our gender – our nationality – we are all one in Christ. Whether we are good athletes or poor athletes – good students or poor students – whether we are Jews or Greeks – slaves or free – we were all made to be one as the body of Chirst.
Now – that might sound like the end of the sermon – but I’d like to close with this final thought and this final charge – here at St. James’ – here in Quitman – on this celebration of the Feast of Pentecost. My thought is this – we as a part of the body of Christ – here in this place – we have work to do. We have work to do in the name of Christ the Lord. Each of us has received the ruach – the very breath of God. Jesus has said to us individually and corporately – “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.
And my charge is this. I charge each of us – myself included – to be in prayer during this season following Pentecost. Be in prayer about what are the gifts that God has given each of us. Be in prayer about what it is that God sends us to do. Be in prayer about what it is that God is calling us to do as His body in this community. Be in prayer about what it is that we can do together as one part of the body of Christ to build up the kingdom of God in this part of the world in which we live. And to be in prayer about what you and I and all of us can do to show forth the love of Christ to all in the world around us.
And in the coming weeks and months we will be in prayer and conversation and discernment together about our mutual ministry. So, my brothers and sisters, let us together discern for what and to whom we are sent in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Jim Elliott